Nestle Acknowledges Slavery in its Supply Chain

Following a year-long investigation by Verité, a nonprofit organization that monitors and evaluates corporate compliance with human rights, Nestle disclosed last week that slavery and forced labor are present in its seafood supply chain. The company has promised to employ protective measures in its global operations and to impose stricter standards for its suppliers.

Nestle itself initiated the study, which focused on the seafood supply chain that produces the company’s shrimp, prawns, and Purina brand cat food. The “fishmeal” used to feed farmed shrimp and prawns is made from fish caught by migrant workers. The study found that these workers are often either sold as slaves to seafood suppliers in Thailand, or trapped in the fishing industry through false promises and debt bondage. Labor recruiters lure fishermen from the poorest areas of Myanmar and Cambodia, and then charge them exorbitant recruitment fees in order to keep them in perpetual debt.

Conditions on fishing vessels are often dangerous and inhumane. One worker told Verité, “Sometimes, the net is too heavy and workers get pulled into the water and just disappear. When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water.”

Nestle’s executive vice president of operations issued a statement saying, “Nestlé is committed to eliminating forced labor in our seafood supply chain in Thailand, working alongside other stakeholders to tackle this serious and complex issue. This will be neither a quick nor an easy endeavor, but we look forward to making significant progress in the months ahead.”

Nestle has promised to publish a detailed one-year strategy to combat human trafficking among its Thai suppliers, to train and incentivize boat owners and captains on human rights standards, and to employ outside auditors to monitor compliance.

The Verité study has strong implications for other companies in the seafood industry, as it found that nearly all U.S. and European companies working with Thai seafood suppliers are likely to find similar violations in their supply chains. The study confirms reports from news organizations and other human rights groups that harsh conditions and coercive tactics are rampant in the Thai seafood sector. Nestle’s unprecedented disclosures and commitment to change should stand as an example to other companies in the seafood industry and in other industries rife with labor trafficking and slavery.

Published on November 30, 2015

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